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Free speech and civil discourse: producing expats, locals, and migrants in the UAE English-language blogosphere


  • I would like to thank Inderpal Grewal, Ahmed Kanna, Karen Leonard, Bill Maurer, and Caroline Melly for reading and commenting on previous versions of this article. I also received valuable feedback from Sima Shakhsari and the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Program at the University of Houston when I presented this paper in March 2011. Partial funding for my research on Dubai blogging came from an Intel Dissertation Fellowship on Domesticity and Technology that I received at the University of California Irvine in 2006. My heartfelt thanks also to the many bloggers, posters, and lurkers whose presence in my life greatly eased my transition into off-line fieldwork and daily life in Dubai, and whose on-line and off-line conversations inspired this piece.

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology & Sociology, Marquis 35, Lafayette College, Easton, PA 18042, USA.


This article examines the production of belonging and exclusion on a popular English-language blog in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE, and particularly the emirate of Dubai, has a large majority foreign resident population, which has little to no access to official citizenship. However, I argue that foreign residents narrate and perform belonging on various scales, including through the production of on-line ‘publics’. As I explore in this article, the differences between citizens and non-citizens are not simply imported into on-line spaces, but on-line spaces and the interactions within them are constitutive of differentiated resident identities. In particular, I explore how the UAE English-language blogosphere is a space for state criticism, assertions of belonging, and interactions by and between groups of people that are not readily available in the rigidly divided social and geographical spaces of Dubai. The ability for citizens and non-citizens to interact in these on-line forums makes the UAE blogosphere a space where assumptions about differences between citizens, expatriates, and migrants that circulate in off-line discourses and technologies of governance are both negotiated and rehearsed by group members and administrators.